Children’s National reports 3 cases of inflammatory disease with possible COVID-19 link

Dr. Charles Berul, chief of cardiology at Children's National Hospital, with WTOP's Debbie Feinstein

Children’s National Hospital is investigating three cases of an inflammatory disease affecting children with potential links to COVID-19.

Three young patients at the D.C. children’s hospital have been afflicted by Kawasaki syndrome, a rare condition of unknown nature that causes swelling, rashes, red eyes, irritated mouth or lips, and high fever in children typically under 5 years old.

While the exact cause of Kawasaki disease has vexed medical researchers for decades, some studies have linked the syndrome to a destructive immune response following an infection — forcing health officials to reevaluate the vulnerability of children during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kawasaki disease is the most common cause of acquired heart disease in American children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; risk of death is very low with treatment. Unlike the novel coronavirus, it is not thought to be contagious and may stem from genetic factors.

“What we’ve seen with this condition is we’ve been treating it because of the risk of heart complications, including coronary, artery aneurysms, and inflammation of the heart muscle,” Dr. Charles Berul, chief of cardiology at Children’s National, told WTOP’s Debbie Feinstein.

Kawasaki disease was first described in Japan by pediatrician Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki in the 1960s. Since then, Berul said, treating children for the disease usually comes with good results if they’re treated early enough before cardiac complications happen.

“In terms of the relationship with COVID, that’s a new finding, first seen in Europe and New York,” Berul said. “We’re not sure if it’s made worse by COVID-19 or any other virus or other infection that may be a trigger for it.”

There’s still a lot that is not known about Kawasaki associated with COVID-19 infection, but Berul said doctors have been treating it just as they have been in general.

The disease is still rare, even among children with COVID-19, Berul said. For kids who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and later recovered, he said it was a good idea for their heart health to get checked by a pediatric cardiologist just in case.

Hospitals in at least five other states have reported suspected cases of Kawasaki disease in children, including New York, where public health officials are pushing to make parents aware of its known symptoms after the deaths of three area youths were attributed to the illness.

“This does not present as a normal COVID case. COVID cases tend to be respiratory; this presents as an inflammation of the blood vessels,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. New York state is monitoring at least 85 possible cases of Kawasaki.

“What we’re seeing is, the immune system’s actually going into overdrive, impacting the body in a negative way,” Dr. Jake Kleinmahon at the Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans told CBS News.

“Fortunately, children overall are very resilient in almost all the cases. And, if we’re able to knock down the inflammation and get them past the beginning stages of this, they’re usually doing very well,” Kleinmahon said.


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